Saturday, January 30, 2016

Daisies For Innocence

Author:  Bailey Cattrell (also writes as Bailey Cates/Cricket McRae)
Series:  Enchanted Garden Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Obsidian

Description:  The Enchanted Garden behind Elliana Allbright’s perfume shop draws people of all ages with its fragrant flowers and lush greenery. But when the magical serenity is interrupted, it’s up to Ellie to sniff out a killer.
Ellie’s life has blossomed in Poppyville, California, since she opened Scents & Nonsense, a custom-made-perfume store. Her skills with aromas and botanical essences—some from her very own garden—seem almost…supernatural. Her perfumes can evoke emotions,  bring about change, or simply make people happy. Customers are flocking to the store to buy her wares or just to sit in her beautiful garden, sip tea and enjoy homemade cookies. 
But she smells trouble when she learns that her part-time assistant Josie is dating her ex. And before she can tell the young woman to beware of his charms, she finds Josie dead in the Enchanted Garden. Now the prime suspect in Josie’s murder, Ellie must search for the real culprit in Josie’s past—because it’ll take a miracle to nip this problem in the bud.

My Review

During the last several months I have read some cozy mysteries that were first in a new series that were pretty good, but this one by Bailey Cattrell just stood out and stayed with me after the book was finished. In all fairness, I am a huge fan of Bailey Cates so it wasn't a stretch to believe that I would enjoy this book as I have her others. This one for me was just so charming, magical and enjoyable that I couldn't put it down. I literally read it in about 5 hours over the course of two days. 

The story is really well written. The author has such a descriptive style that the reader can picture the Enchanted Garden and smell the soaps and perfumes in Ellianna's store. I thought the book was well plotted with a steady pace. The mystery was solid and provide the reader with several viable suspects and theories for the crime. I was surprised at the identity of the killer and thought the mystery and reason for the murder were wrapped up nicely. 

The characters in this story are charming, quirky and some people I would like to know in real life. Ellianna is a reluctant sleuth and only begins her investigation to save herself from being blamed for the murder.  She has a quiet strength about her as she goes about trying to solve this mystery and remove herself as the chief suspect. During the course of this story she actually comes to realize through memory that she does have a certain talent that can help people.  What I liked about her and how the character was written is that as she investigated and gathered facts, she didn't accuse everyone in town of murder during the course of her investigation. I have seen that in some other stories and it was a little off putting.  The secondary characters and their personalities pair well with Elliana.  I love her little corgi - Dash - who I would consider as a secondary character.  The way he is written you can almost picture his expressions and in certain places it almost seems as if he is actually conversing with Ellianna.

All in all, this was a great start to what I hope will be a long running series. The story was well written, with great characters and a solid mystery. If you are looking for a charming read I would suggest you give this one a try.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tea with Milk and Murder

Author:  H.Y. Hanna
Series:  Oxford Tearoom Mystery #2
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Wisheart Press

Description:  While at an Oxford cocktail party, tearoom owner Gemma Rose overhears a sinister conversation minutes before a University student is fatally poisoned. Could there be a connection? And could her best friend Cassie’s new boyfriend have anything to do with the murder? 

Gemma decides to start her own investigation, helped by the nosy ladies from her Oxfordshire village and her old college flame, CID detective Devlin O’Connor. But her mother is causing havoc at Gemma’s quaint English tearoom and her best friend is furious at her snooping… and this mystery is turning out to have more twists than a chocolate pretzel! 

Too late, Gemma realises that she’s could be the next item on the killer’s menu. Or will her little tabby cat, Muesli, save the day? 

My Review

I had the fortune of reading and reviewing an ARC of the first book in this series and found it to be such a charming read that when I was asked by the author to read and review the second book I immediate said yes.  Apparently, the plan was to release the first two book within a short period of time of each other to generate buzz for an author that is new to this genre.

This book was just as charming as the first and I enjoyed it just as much.  It is an easy and fun read.  The story is well written and the plot has a great pace that keeps you turning the pages to see what happens next.  the author also has a terrific descriptive style and as you read the story you can picture yourself sitting in the tea room or walking around Oxford.   At first, after the murder occurred, it didn't seem like there were going to be that many suspects and the mystery might be easy to solve.  That turned out not to be the case.  As Gemma begins to investigate (of course she has to because her best friend Cassie's boyfriend could be a suspect) there are plenty of twist, turns and red herrings thrown into the mix and when the killer was revealed I was surprised.  The mystery in this book was as solid as the first and had just as climatic of a conclusion.

I love the characters in this story.  Gemma is terrific.  She is smart, warm and caring.  The "Old Biddies" make a return and once again they provide Gemma with some "assistance."  I was a little miffed that Cassie allowed her boyfriend to come briefly between her friendship with Gemma, but as is typical with best friends those fights never last long and the relationship between them is strong enough to survive the fight.  In this installment, I fell in love more with Gemma's mother.  While it appears she has mastered remembering her iPad password, she has discovered online shopping and wait to you see what she buys.  I'm not a cat person, but Muesli is growing on me as well and the interaction between her and Gemma qualifies her as a secondary character in my opinion.

This is a charming series that I find to be well written with solid mysteries and great characters and I will be back to visit the tea room in March 2016 when the next installment is due out.

I was provided a copy of the book by the author in exchange for an honest review.  I was not required to give a positive review and the thoughts expressed are my own.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Dream Killer

Author:  Mike Baldwin
Genre:  Mystery
Publisher:  Self Published by Author

Description:  To fulfill her friend’s dream, legendary sports agent Veronica Townsend has constructed a kids’ summer camp on the Kansas farm where baseball hero John Jensen was raised. Camp Dream Catcher, though, is in danger of shutting down after a lifeguard is murdered. With cancellations pouring in, Veronica must solve the mystery in a desperate attempt to keep the camp open.

My Review

This is the first book that I have read by this author.  Mr. Baldwin has written one previous mystery, and that character is referenced in this story.  However, if you have not read the previous book you will not be lost if you start with this one.  The synopsis of the story was interesting to me.  I don't recall reading a mystery that takes place at a children's summer camp, so I thought I would give this a try.

The first thing the reader should be aware of is that this story is told from several different points of view.  It took be a bit to adjust but once I did it didn't seem to interfere with my reading of the story.  The book is well written and has a good solid mystery.  There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the story.  There are also plenty of suspects to choose from which will keep the reader guessing as to the killer's identity until the culprit is revealed.

I love stories that are character driven.  While the mystery is important, as a reader, it is my connection with the characters that will keep my returning to a series or an author to read future books.  For the most part, the characters were likable and given that this story took place in a kids summer camp they were appropriate for a younger audience who may pick up the book to read.  My only criticism was that I felt there were too many characters in this story and it was hard to keep track of them and I felt that with so many there was not as much character development as I would like to see in a story.  I didn't feel like I was able to have enough time to get to know them and really connect.  I think that with less characters I would have enjoyed this book even more.

In sum, I thought this was a well written book with a good solid mystery.  It had an interesting concept with the story being told in multiple points of view.  For me personally, I thought there were too many characters in the book and would have liked to have seen fewer that were more developed.  That said, I enjoyed the book and would be willing to give future books by this author a try.

I was gifted a copy of this book by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Copy Cap Murder

Author:  Jenn McKinlay
Series:  Hat Shop Mysteries #4
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Berkley

Description:  For Scarlett Parker, part of the fun of living in London is celebrating the British holidays, and she’s excited to share her first Bonfire Night with her cousin Vivian Tremont. Invited to a posh party by their friend Harrison Wentworth, Scarlett and Viv decide to promote their hat shop, Mim’s Whims, by donning a few of their more outrageous creations. The hats prove to be quite the conversation starters as the girls mix and mingle with the guests—never suspecting that one of them is a killer. 

It’s a cold, clear night, perfect for the British tradition of tossing a straw stuffed effigy of Guy Fawkes, traitor to the crown, onto the bonfire. But instead of a straw man, they realize in the heat of the moment that the would-be Guy Fawkes is actually Harrison’s office rival and he’s been murdered. Before the smoke has cleared, Harrison is the Metropolitan police’s prime suspect, and Scarlett and Vivian must find the real homicidal hothead before their dear friend’s life goes up in flames.

My Review

This series has quickly become one of my favorite must read series.  Jenn McKinlay is a such a terrific writer and I think there series just gets better with each book.  The author has such a wonderful writing style that she draws the reader into her world and surrounds them with such a great story line, wonderful characters and a solid mystery that you never want to leave.  Whenever I pick up one of the books in this series I know I won't be disappointed and I will be transported for a few hours to visit with characters that are starting to feel like old friends.

The mystery in this installment is absolutely terrific.  There are a good number of suspects and plenty of twists and turns leading up to a very climactic resolution and reveal of the killer's identity.  I was completely surprised as to the identity of the killer as well as the other plot twist that author threw into the mix.  The story is well plotted and has a fantastic pace.  There is not a dull moment in this book.  We even get an answer to the cliffhanger from the last book.

The characters are also developing really well.  The relationships and friendships continue to grow and when I sit down to read these books I feel like the characters have all become friends and that I am just catching up with them.  I like how the relationship between the cousins is strong and that that the secondary characters have become family and play an part in all of the mysteries.  I also like how the relationship between Scarlett and Harrison is progressing.  In each book I can see how they all of the characters are growing and it just makes them more interesting, likable and people you can relate to.

I have really enjoyed all of the books in the series, but I think this one is my favorite so far.  It is well written with wonderful characters, a strong mystery with plenty of surprises and a great setting in the hat shop and London.  Jenn McKinlay has created a wonderful series that does not disappoint and is highly entertaining.  If you haven't read any of the books in this series, I would encourage you to give them a try.  You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Scone to Die For

Author:  H.Y. Hanna
Series:  An Oxford Tearoom Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Wishheart Press
Publication Date:  January 18, 2016

Description:  When an American tourist is murdered with a scone in Gemma Rose’s quaint Oxfordshire tearoom, she suddenly finds herself apron-deep in a mystery involving long-buried secrets from Oxford’s past.

Armed with her insider knowledge of the University and with the help of four nosy old ladies from the village (not to mention a cheeky little tabby cat named Muesli), Gemma sets out to solve the mystery—all while dealing with her matchmaking mother and the return of her old college love, Devlin O’Connor, now a dashing CID detective.

But with the body count rising and her business going bust, can Gemma find the killer before things turn to custard?

My Review

This is author is new to me although she has written many romance novels as well as the Big Honey Dog cozy mystery series.  What drew me to this book was the cute cover and the description.  In addition, I have not read many cozy mystery series set in England and this year, I am trying to broaden my horizons and read cozies that are set in themes that I haven't typically read.

I found this to be a wonderful start to a promising new series.  At heart, it is a story with a them around second chances.  It is well written and the author has a wonderful descriptive writing style writing in such a way that the reader can picture the quaint town and the delicious items offered on the menu at the tea room. These descriptions hook there reader from the start and will have you turning pages until the surprising conclusion.  The mystery is well done and provides plenty of suspects along with twists and turns along the way.  I did not guess the identity of the killer and when it was revealed, I was very much surprised by the identity of the killer. 

The characters in this story were fabulous.  I absolutely adored Gemma Rose, our main character.  She was smart, witty, feisty and independent.  She was likeable right from the start and well developed but with room for growth in future installments.  The secondary characters were also terrific.  There are the four older patron's of the tea room referred to as the "old biddies."  They are the town gossips and help provide Gemma with clues as she tries to solve the murder that took place outside the tea room.  Gemma's best friend Cassie is quirky and fun making her a great compliment to Gemma.  But, I think my absolute favorite secondary character is Gemma's mother.  Her antics had me chucking several places in the book, but most especially when she would forget her iPad password. 

In summary, this was a wonderfully written book with great characters and a strong mystery that will engage the reader and leave them coming back for book 2.  I know I will definitely be making a return visit to Gemma's tea room.

I received and ARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Plain Dead

Author:  Emma Miller
Series:  An Amish Mystery #3
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Kensington

Description:  When a newspaperman is murdered in the Amish community of Stone Mill, Pennsylvania, Rachel Mast digs up the dirt to find out who wanted to bury the lead…
Although she left her Old Order Amish ways in her youth, Rachel discovered corporate life in the English world to be complicated and unfulfilling. Having returned to Stone Mill, she’s happy to be running her own B&B. But she’s also learning—in more ways than one—that the past is not always so easily left behind.
After local newspaperman Bill Billingsly is found gagged and tied to his front porch, left to freeze overnight in a snowstorm, Detective Evan Parks—Rachel’s beau—uncovers a file of scandalous information Billingsly intended to publish, including a record of Rachel pleading no contest to charges of corporate misconduct. Though Evan is certain of her innocence, it’s up to Rachel to find the real killer. A closer examination of the victim’s unpublished report leads Rachel to believe the Amish community is far from sinless. But if she’s not careful her obituary might be the next to appear in print.

My Review

This is the first book that I have read by this author and I found it to be very enjoyable.  I am a fan of Amish themed cozy mysteries so when I had the chance to read and review an author in this genre that was new to me I was happy to do so.  While Ms. Miller is new to me, this is actually the third book in the Amish Mystery Series.  However, if you have not read the previous two, don't worry, this book reads as a stand alone and your enjoyment will not be diminished by not having read the first two books.

The book is well written and has a solid mystery, some suspense and a little romance thrown in as well.  The author has a descriptive writing style which invites the reader in and keeps them engage throughout the entire story.  The story takes place in a small town which adds to the charm of the book.  It has a good pace that keeps you turning until the end to find out the identity of the killer.  There are plenty of suspects and the mystery itself is well plotted.  The author weaves plenty of clues into the story and provides enough twists and turns so that I kept second guessing myself when it came to the identity of the killer.  

As I have always said in my reviews, I love stories with great characters and this one is no exception.  Rachel, the main character is warm, smart and not afraid to get involved even if other's think it is none of her concern.  I like the perspective of Rachel as well.  I liked that she was old order Amish who left and is now considered an Englisher. I thought the author did a wonderful job writing this character as someone who still honors the traditions of her family even though she has left the way of life.   I found all of the characters in this story to be well developed and flushed out.

In sum, this is a well written book that has wonderful characters, a solid mystery, some suspense and a little romance all thrown together in what was a very easy and enjoyable read.  I will definitely be going back to read more from this author.

I received a copy of this book from Kensington through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.  The thoughts expressed are my own.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Here Today, Gone Tamale

Author:  Rebecca Adler (also writes as Gina Lee Nelson)
Series:  A Taste of Texas Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Berkley

Description:  After losing her newspaper job in Austin and having her former fiancé unfriend her on Facebook, Josie Callahan scoops up her Chihuahua, Lenny, and slinks back to Broken Boot, Texas. Maybe working as head waitress at Milagro—her aunt and uncle’s Tex-Mex restaurant—isn’t exactly living the dream, but it is a fresh start.
And business is booming as tourists pour into Broken Boot for its famous Wild West Festival. But when a local jewelry designer is found strangled outside Milagro after a tamale-making party, Josie’s reporter instincts kick in. As suspects pile up and alibis crack faster than taco shells, Josie needs to wrap up this case tighter than her tía’s tortillas—before another victim calls for the check.

My Review

This is the first book that I have read by this author writing as Rebecca Adler or Gina Lee Nelson.  To be honest, it took longer than usual for me to get into the story.   First books in a series are always a delicate balance between establishing the characters without weighing the reader down with too much back story and providing a good quality mystery.  For me, I think the reason I had such a hard time was that I felt overwhelmed by all of the characters being in one place at the same time right at the start of the book.  I felt a bit overwhelmed at keeping track of who was who. However, as the story progressed and we get to see the cast of characters, either individually or in smaller groups, the story smoothed out for me and the reading became easier.

I thought the story was well written and the author has a very descriptive style that I enjoyed.  The mystery was solid and there was a great cast of suspects to choose from.  To be honest, I really didn't care for the victim in the short amount of time she was in the book so I could see how everyone could become a suspect.  She was the type of character that offends or alienates everyone.  The identity of the killer was a surprise to me but as I reflected back on the book, I could see some hints throughout the story and the reasoning could be plausible, at least for Texas.

I enjoyed most of the characters and once they weren't in one group I was able to see how the author developed their personalities and story lines.  I think that there were a few too many characters and therefore they were not as developed as they could have been. However, this is a first book in the series so the author has the ability to flush out and develop those characters a bit more in further books.  I like when, as a reader, you get to see characters develop and grow throughout a series.  It is what keeps me coming back.

In summary, I thought that this was a solid mystery with good characters.  The series shows promise and I will be returning  to Broken Boot Texas for future installments to catch of with Josie and the rest of the Martinez

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

One Foot in the Grape

Author:  Carlene O'Neil
Series:  Cypress Cove Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Berkley

Description:  In California wine country, the town of Cypress Cove may seem peaceful. But someone’s about to pop their cork…

After losing her job as a photojournalist, Penny Lively is trying to get her life back in focus. Inheriting the family winery from her late aunt may be the fresh start she needs. Thankfully she’s got her niece Hayley and her handsome winery manager Connor to help. But the person in need of more urgent assistance is Antonia Martinelli, the owner of the neighboring winery, who has her own barrel full of problems. Someone’s spoiling her wine, and with the upcoming Autumn Festival, she needs Penny’s nose for clues to sniff out the culprit.

But Penny’s search for answers sours after the body of a staff member is found in a grape crusher. Since Hayley was the last to see him alive, she’s the prime suspect in the case. Now Penny must hurry to find the real killer before Hayley withers on the vine.

My Review

One Foot in the Grape is a delightful start to Carlene O'Neil's Cypress Cove Mysteries.   With this first installment, this series shows plenty of promise.   This book caught my interest right from the start and had me turning pages until the very end.  The story contains strong characters, especially our main character Penny, and Antonia Martinelli, a fellow winery owner and family member.  I liked Penny and the fact that she was strong, independent and quick witted.  The entire Martinelli family plans a part in the story and while we don't know a lot about the family I appreciated that the author did not fill us in with their entire back story but rather revealed what was important for this story.  The secondary characters, outside of the Martinelli family, round out the cast nicely.  I am looking forward to learning more about the characters in future stories.  There may even be a bit of romance for Penny in future installments of the series.

I thought the mystery was well written and complex.  It had plenty of twists and turns with a bit of a surprise at how it all came together in the end.  Given the cast of characters, there were plenty of suspects and all of them had viable motives. I changed my mind plenty of times as to who I thought would be the killer.  I was surprised at how I reacted to the death of the first victim.  The author had already had me so engaged in the story that when the first victim was killed (using a method that was a first for me in a cozy mystery) I was genuinely sad that this person had been killed.  

I think this story is well written, with well rounded and developed characters and a plot that will keep you turning pages to a very satisfying ending.  All in all, I really enjoyed this book and will be looking for more to come from this author.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

For Seven Nights Only

Author:  Sarah Ballance
Series:  A Chase Brothers Story
Genre:  Romance
Publisher:  Entangled Publishing LLC (Lovestruck)
Publication Date:  January 18, 2016

Description:  Kelsie Reed is over bad luck and bad men. Newly dumped, she’s now the pathetically single maid of honor in her sister's wedding—and her ex is the best man. Her bad luck continues when a plumbing meltdown in her apartment sends her sexy neighbor running to her rescue. He’s got "serial dater" written all over him, which is unfortunate because the man is hot.

Sawyer Chase loves women, but settling down? He’ll leave that to his brothers. But when Kelsie confesses she’s a dating disaster and is about to become the laughing stock of her family wedding, Sawyer takes control. He's got one week to teach her how to land the man of her dreams, and he’ll do it on her terms: no touching, no kissing, and definitely nothing more.

But some rules need to be broken, especially when, for once, there’s something on the line worth fighting for.

My Review

This is the second book in the Chase Brother's series. It is a stand alone novel, so you are not missing anything or lost if you didn't read the first book in the series.  Because this is the first book I have read by Sarah Ballance I didn't know what to expect but when I read the story synopsis I thought it sounded a little different than other romances I have read so I thought I would give it a try.  I found the story to be very enjoyable.  

For me, one of the strengths of the book was how the author crafted the relationships in the story.  I enjoyed the relationship between Sawyer and his brothers, as well as the relationship between Sawyer and Kelsie.  They were realistic with the ups and downs of these types of relationships.  The characters were the heart of the story and I found them to be well developed.  In fact, as the I read the book, I could easily picture future stories about the remaining brothers.  Sawyer is your typical hot, womanizing male, and although he is a stereotype, he does have redeeming qualities and is likable.  I really enjoyed Kelsie's character because while an ex-boyfriend caused her to become insecure about certain aspects of herself, she was still spunky and didn't downplay her intelligence in the hopes it would get her a date or relationship.   Their relationship had plenty of chemistry but I liked that it had to grow and wasn't instant.  In fact, the two don't particularly like each other at the beginning of the book.

The dialogue is well written and I found myself chuckling and even laughing at the banter between Kelsie and Sawyer.  I definitely had some laugh out loud moments when Kelsie was in the kitchen.  I  liked that the book occurred over a short period of time; the course of seven dates.  I think this helped to drive the pace so that there were not any lulls in the story.  All in all, I found this to be a well written, enjoyable read and would be open to reading more stories by this author.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.